NCHP program targets teens

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 11, 2006

‘Tis the season.

With the arrival of spring, people naturally began to take part in activities such as cook-outs, dances and other types of festive events. Some will involve alcohol consumption which, if handled responsibly and by a person of legal drinking age, is accepted within our society.

However, it’s those who choose to act irresponsibly by climbing behind the wheel of a vehicle after consuming too much alcohol that become a menace on the highway. Ditto for teens….not just those who illegally consume alcohol and then attempt to operate a motor vehicle. Studies have shown that inexperienced drivers do not fully recognize the risks involved in driving, often leading them to make poor decisions while behind the wheel.

The North Carolina Highway Patrol has developed a safety initiative to reduce collisions and fatalities involving teenage drivers by enforcing all traffic laws around the state’s schools as well as conducting traffic safety education programs at high schools statewide.

During the weeks of April 10-14 and April 17-21, the Highway Patrol will be conducting Operation Drive to Live 2006.

According to First Sgt. Eric Jackson of the NCHP office in Ahoskie, troopers will be highly visible around Roanoke-Chowan area high school campuses between the weekday hours of 6 a.m. and 5 p.m.

“Traffic collisions are the leading cause of teenage deaths in North Carolina and our nation,” First Sgt. Jackson said. “Last year, 174 teenage drivers were killed in collisions on our state’s highways. Many collisions involving teenage drivers occur during their commute to and from high school. In 2004, North Carolina ranked fourth in the nation in this category per vehicle miles traveled. Speed remains the leading cause of those deaths.”

Jackson promised that the troopers assigned to the Ahoskie office n which covers Bertie, Gates and Hertford counties n will be aggressively enforcing all traffic laws around the local high schools.

First Sgt. Jackson also pointed out that April is traditionally “prom month” where area high school students take part in this annual ritual. While high school proms are mostly innocent in nature, some can take on serious implications due to the participants choosing to consume alcohol and operate a motor vehicle.

To show the seriousness of this matter, First Sgt. Jackson shared some startling figures. In 2005, the NCHP arrested nearly 2,200 impaired drivers ages 20 and under.

“I hope these young people understand that in the state of North Carolina teens are treated as adults when they are caught possessing and/or consuming illegal substances,” he noted. “Drinking alcohol and taking other drugs are adult actions, which come with adult consequences. In our jobs we all too often see the tragic results of alcohol and drugs ending up in the wrong hands.”

In the most severe cases, those arrested and convicted of impaired driving face fines upward to $4,000 and an active term of up to 24 months in prison. Other penalties include house arrest, community service work, substance abuse assessment or treatment, and loss of driving privileges.

Above all, First Sgt. Jackson said the ‘Driving to Live’ program was designed to heighten awareness to the contributing factors (speed, alcohol, failure to buckle-up) involved in the majority of motor vehicle crashes.

“Those drivers who are impaired due to alcohol or drugs often kill themselves, but more often their irresponsible actions lead to the death of innocent victims,” he stressed. “By promoting our ‘Driving to Live’ program, it’s our desire to educate the public on the consequences of impaired driving, speeding and not employing the use of driver and passenger restraint devices.”

In closing, First Sgt. Jackson offered ways for teenage drivers and passengers to protect themselves. They included:

Notify law enforcement of suspicious drunk drivers.

Join SADD (Students Against Destructive Decisions) to deter peers from drinking.

Remember your peers who have died due to alcohol and drug use.

Enter into an agreement with your parents to promise to call home for transportation if you or your friends have been drinking.

Don’t ride with anyone who has been drinking or doing drugs.

Minimize nighttime driving.

Wear a safety belt.